Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas blog


Beginning another blog in the days before Christmas. I will be spending it quietly here in Vancouver, without doing any holiday travel. We are having a cold spell, and snow is thick outside. I am warm and secure, and in pretty good health. Best holiday wishes to all my friends and colleagues.

Best news: my research assistant Barry Magrill has found a way to add a really usable, easily readable copy of my collected non-scholarly works, CYCTIE (the Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera) to my website. Click on CYCTIE, then on the single item (same) that appears below. Downloaded will be a pdf of the entire 84-page text, no underlining except where it is intentional, indentations and spacings as in my original typescript, all clear and readable. For those new to it, it contains my comic-verse writings over the years, including songs written for Faculty Club Christmas parties and other occasions at U.C. Berkley; my part of the libretto (from p. 18) for a musical titled "Dan Destry's Dilemma, or Publish or Perish, or Both," using the music and forms of Gilbert-and-Sullivan songs; the same for a later production titled "Dan Destry's Return, or the Academic Beggar's Opera," using music and song-patterns from the Gay-Pepusch work of that title (from p. 24); verses and would-be serious poems written in my earlier years, and during my Army years in Korea (try "Three Seoul Streetscapes," from the bottom of p. 60); and scripts for entertainments, notably (from p. 67) a Shakespeare/Marlowe fragment titled "Hamlet in Wittenberg." (Has no one else realized that Hamlet and Faust may have been at that university at the same time?) Recommended, although dated (Berkeley student riots etc.) See also, for a terrible pun which I still love, four lines from the end of p. 82. (For young people who will miss the point: there was a popular song, sung notably by Bob Hope in a movie, called "Thanks for the Memories.")

In the previous blog I announced an offer of an audiodisk containing an old recording, from a radio broadcast, of a comic chamber opera titled "A Day At Creed's" (my preferred title; Gordon's, used on the broadcast, was "Creedo in Unum Bookstore") that my composer friend Gordon Cyr and I (as librettist) created in the late 1940s and performed with two friends. It became a part of the Berkeley tradition, and copies of the recording made from a radio broadcast were kept and occasionally played by old Berkeley people. Now you can own a copy—see my previous blog for instructions on getting it. As for the next JCahillDisk: Barry Magrill is presently preparing a long text, and an attached series of several hundred digital images, called "Chang Fakes," listing and describing the paintings I suspect of being (or know to be) forgeries by the great forger Chang Ta-ch'ien.. Whether this will be issued as a disk or somehow made accessible on the website is still to be determined.

One of my Reminiscences, no. 36, "Brundage Opening Symposium, Last Day," tells of how I used my introductory remarks to this last-day session in the 1968 (?) symposium, calling it a tribute to the recently-deceased Osvald Sirén, to deliver a response to Avery Brundage for the remarks he had made at the opening lunch, insulting Chinese painting specialists by saying the reason he didn't buy more Chinese paintings was that the experts couldn't agree on datings, or even tell Japanese paintings from Chinese. Mentioned there also was the brief, unexpected talk that Sirén's son delivered, a strangely moving "tribute" to his father's scholarly achievements, which, he said, had necessitated his neglecting his family—"It wasn't easy being the son of Osvald Sirén." I mention there that I once had a tape recording of this session, but had lost it. My daughter Sarah found it, along with other old, nostalgia-inducing tapes, and has sent it to me on a disk. I could in principle make that, too, available to anyone seriously interested in listening to it, as part of the history of our field, recording a dramatic moment in it.

Soon to be posted on my website are three more Reminiscences and two CLPs. CLP 187 is the "keynote" paper I delivered in October at an international symposium in Seoul, Korea. CLP 188 is a paper I wrote on “Pictorial Integrity: The Readable Image as Indicator of Authenticity in Chinese Painting,” outlining and arguing for a method of distinguishing original paintings from copies by seeing which one exhibits "pictorial integrity," i.e. makes good sense everywhere as a picture—the copyist frequently misunderstands pictorial elements and garbles them. A notable example is the "two-legged tripod" detail in the copy of Tu Chin's "Enjoying Antiques" in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, which I (wrongly) reproduced as the original in Parting At the Shore, Fig. 73. (For detailed arguments about this matter, see "The Tu Chin Correspondence, 1994-95." In: Kaikodo Journal V, Autumn 1997, pp. 8-62.)

The three Reminiscences are:

- 58. Altering Chinese Paintings; Walter Hochstadter. Describing this late dealer's bad habit of repainting or deleting details in paintings he owned.

- 59. Two Famous Collector-Donors Whom I Didn't Like. Some of you will guess who they were; either way, go and see.

- 60. Novelty and Romancement, or, Less Bread, More Taxes! This is a short one, I hope amusing, written quickly this morning
(12//19/08)—I thought of it while lying awake in bed. The title is taken from two unfamiliar (to most people) writings of Lewis Carroll.

Finally: the arrival of a very good exhibition catalog from my bookseller, titled "Tracing the Che School in Chinese Painting" and based on what appears to have been a fine and important exhibition at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, reminds me of another matter on which there has been a great change since my younger days. Among the many valuable contributions of this catalog are re-attributions of paintings formerly ascribed to Sung-period artists (note that I use Wade-Giles, writing about a subject in Taiwan), now given more convincing and up-to-date re-attributions, on the basis of their styles, to Ming masters of the Che School. This is a big advance over the situation that obtained back in 1960, I think it was, when we were preparing the great 1961-62 exhibition Chinese Art Treasures. We had made such re-attributions of some of the paintings in our catalog entries (written by Aschwin Lippe and myself). Suddenly I, as a young curator at the Freer Gallery, was summoned to the Chinese Embassy in D.C. and informed that conservative members of the committee in Taipei that administered the Palace Museum were objecting to these re-attributions, and demanding that we return to the traditional attributions in our catalog entries; otherwise, they threatened, the exhibition would not be allowed to proceed. To see how this problem was resolved, through the skillful management of the then-Chinese ambassador to the U.S. George Yeh, see the early pages of my CLP 117 (2005). “The Place of the National Palace Museum in My Scholarly Career.”

Later note: a review in this morning's New York Times (12/24/08, The Arts section p. C1) of a book of poems by the Berkeley poet Jack Spicer mentions "the so-called Berkeley Renaissance of the late 1940s." Was our 1949 opera (see paragraph 3 above) part of that? In a way it was, since its setting and subject, Creed's Bookstore, was a hangout for Berkeley literary people, and the literary-gay group among them, mentioned briefly in my Responses and Reminiscences no. 57, included Spicer. I didn't know him, at least not well, but I did know well the more famous Berkeley poet Robert Duncan (also pictured in the photo accompanying the review), especially when Al Lewis, mentioned in the Reminiscence and a character in our opera, was living with us in our house on Hillegass Ave. Duncan was a frequent visitor to our musical-literary evenings at which we played intricate games, sometimes ending the evening late by consulting my copy of Ueda's Japanese-English Dictionary, which provided English sentences to exemplify usages of words, as an oracle, asking it questions and opening it at random and reading where a finger pointed. The answers were often scarily to the point. When it was not responding satisfactorily we would give it a libation, a small dollop of sake. Duncan had a certain attachment to me, which I never rewarded (I was never attracted to gay sex, and never participated in it.) I note also, in an article in this week's New Yorker, that Susan Sontag was briefly an undergraduate at U. C. Berkeley in 1949. Did I sell her a book at Creed's? Quite possibly.

Merry Christmas to all, James Cahill